Director: A.T. White
Starring: Virginia Gardner, Christina Masterson
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: Aubrey returns to her old town after the death of her former best friend. Stricken by grief, she breaks into her deceased friend’s apartment. Unfortunately, she couldn’t have picked a worse time as the apocalypse has been set in motion and she is in ground zero.
Considering I’ve gone through numerous lovecraftian and cosmic horror films for my best Lovecratian film articles, Starfish completely slipped my grasp. Spotting an intriguing image from the film in a tweet from Prince Jackson of the Knight Light Horror Podcast (seriously, check them out), Prince gave it a strong recommendation, so I had to seek it out. Cosmic horror is maybe my favourite subgenre of horror due to its scale, otherworldly entities, madness, and that sense of feeling miniscule in the face of such eldritch terrors across time and space. Unfortunately, the subgenre has rarely been explored and when it has there have been few quality entries.
Starfish tackles the genre with a low budget earnestness that simply won me over from the start. Hipster horror is a term I’ve coined for indie horror that is more competent than the average low budget horror film, but dips into both mumblecore and understated performances. Starfish is all about the feels, specifically loss, grief, regret, and isolation. And yet, the subject matters is explored thoroughly with a melancholic tone and lack of urgency. Our lead, Aubrey tackles the situation with solid logic and instincts to self preserve, but she carries a lot of emotional baggage.
For such a low budget film, all aspects of the filmmaking massively impressed me. Striking cinematography, convincing performances, deep themes, and a downcast soundtrack to match the film’s mood. I tend to be a little more lenient on indie movies because of their lack of resources and lower budgets, but I felt no need by the time the credits rolled because Starfish is an incredibly competent and confident film. Intertwining aspects of cosmic horror and an apocalyptic scenario with a thoroughly emotional drama is a brave choice by director At White, but one he has pulled off with panache and clear vision.
The horror elements tend to play second fiddle throughout. The story is more focused on Aubrey’s journey to accept the loss of loved ones and keep sane as loneliness engulfs her, all while trying to uncover the mystery of what has befallen her desolate town. The moments of horror are particularly effective and really ramp up the urgency compared to the slower and more sombre scenes in the film. While the effects and CGI can appear shoddy, compared to the vast majority of indie horror I thought it was handled well with some great creature design and a scope I was not expecting (one scene in particular will look very familiar to fans of The Mist.
While there’s plenty of praise to be given, Starfish falls into the trap of becoming a little too self-indulgent. The slow pace topped with alternative soundtrack might have been more pleasing if I was wearing Converse with a check shirt and skinny fit jeans; maybe even 20/20 vision glasses might have helped me see the film in a more kaleidoscopic light. Hell, at one point I was expecting the hipster from A Ghost Story to make an appearance with another airy monologue. Ambiguity is a common trope amongst cosmic horror, fear of the unknown and the lack of answers in a grander universe is Lovecraftian terror at its best, but by holding its cards so highly in the third act, the film’s ending felt more standoffish that poignant.
Starfish has been my most pleasant discovery this year. An experimental indie horror that achieves so much with such an over-encumbered premise. It’s too soon to be making a part 3 of my best Lovecraftian films series, but Starfish has definitely made its mark in the subgenre.
Cans of Guinness